Course changes should make Sage Valley play tougher in Junior Invitational

Invitational record expected to be safe

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Nicholas Reach made it look easy last year.

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Jonathan Garrick hits his approach shot to No. 18 during a practice round at Sage Valley. Garrick, a 17 year old from California, was a first-team All-American selection.  SARA CALDWELL/STAFF
SARA CALDWELL/STAFF
Jonathan Garrick hits his approach shot to No. 18 during a practice round at Sage Valley. Garrick, a 17 year old from California, was a first-team All-American selection.

Now a freshman at the University of Georgia, Reach set a course record en route to a 20-under-par total to win the inaugural Junior Invitational at Sage Valley.

This year, the best 54 juniors from around the world will have the same goal in mind – to play like Reach and hoist the heavy Gibbs Trophy on Sunday.

This year’s event begins at 9 a.m. today, and it does so with a few changes. First, the dates of the tournament have changed to allow more spectators to watch it. Last year, it was a Wednesday through Friday event. Now, it runs today through Sunday.

Also, the course itself is expected to be tougher than it was a year ago, when Reach set a new standard with 10-under 62 in the first round.

George Cunningham, of Tucson, Ariz., who finished in 18th place in the 2011 Junior Invitational, has found the fairways tighter and the rough higher.

“Last year, you could pretty much hit it wherever you wanted off the tee,” said Cunningham, one of 10 returning players. “Then, if you were on with your irons, you could go low.”

Despite a smattering of rain throughout the week, soft greens won’t be a concern. The course is equipped with a SubAir system, which sucks water from the surface of every green. Cunningham expects course officials to speed up the greens to help Sage Valley defend itself.

Cunningham, who said he expects the winning score to be about 10 or 11-under, approves of another change tournament officials made. All golfers are required to wear pants, making the Junior Invitational the only major junior event to enforce that rule.

“I don’t mind wearing pants,” Cunningham said. “It’s early in the year. It’s not too hot. It definitely looks better.”

Another change: a new award to the champion. The winner of this year’s event will receive a replica of the 3-foot-tall, 96-pound trophy which bears a bas-relief image of Reach receiving his winner’s jacket last year from PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem.

NEW TROPHY TO BE PRESENTED

The winner of this year’s Junior Invitational at Sage Valley will hoist the new Gibbs Trophy, which will be presented with a jacket.

The custom-designed Gibbs Trophy features a bas-relief image in cast bronze of the tournament’s first champion, Nicholas Reach, receiving the winner’s jacket from PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem. Mounted on a solid walnut base supporting a cast bronze trophy body, it also depicts images of Bobby Jones and Arnold Palmer.

Designed by Brad Runnels of Ocozzio Marketing and Design and produced by Bennett Awards of California, the award is 36 inches high, 22 inches wide, and weighs 96 pounds. The funding for the trophy was provided by Jimmy Gibbs of Spartanburg, S.C.

IF YOU GO

WHAT: Second annual Junior Invitational at Sage Valley

WHERE: Sage Valley Golf Club, Graniteville

WHEN: Friday-Sunday, 54 holes

WHO: 54 players from 15 countries, including 16 of the top-20 ranked players according to the American Junior Golf Association

TICKETS: $15 (daily ticket), $20 (weekly ticket), $100 (daily clubhouse badge), $250 (weekly clubhouse badge), children 15 and under free with an adult. Tickets can be purchased at Sage Valley or Savannah River Banking locations.

MORE INFORMATION: juniorinvitational.com


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